Since dog training has changed drastically over the years, there are now many different options when it comes to choosing an obedience class. This can leave owners confused and a bit worried about how to choose the right fit for their pup. There is everything from puppy class, to agility, to even scent class! So how do you choose? And what types of questions should you ask?
Age Appropriate Options
Age plays a big factor into deciding which type of class your dog should start in. With a puppy under the age of 6 months, it is important that they be in a group class that offers plenty of safe interaction. Socialization is vital for early ages as they go through what we call “critical periods”. During this critical period it is important that your puppy be exposed to and have positive experiences with other puppies, people, places, objects, noises..etc. And one easy way to do that would be to find a group class that focuses on early socialization.
Training Methods Used
This is an important question to ask the trainer. What methods will be used in class and is there any required equipment? In the world of dog training there are many different methods used. Some are more humane and preferred while others can be less desirable. A trainer who uses reward based training strategies is one that will be focusing on rewarding your dog for wanted behaviors instead of “correcting” the bad ones. Learning what to do instead of what not to do is much less stressful and can make for a more enjoyable time for both you and your dog. During these types of classes you will usually be asked to bring something that your dog is reinforced by and loves (treats or toys). Using non-averse equipment is preferred as to not cause any damage to your dog physically and mentally. The use of choke chains, pinch collars…etc is usually a red flag. Instead, try to find a class that uses comfortable equipment such as a regular flat collar or harness. Training is a wonderful opportunity to form a lasting bond with your dog while creating clear communication, so it is important the methods are positive.
Be sure to find a class size that suits your dog’s personality and sociability. If your dog is nervous or has not been around a lot of dogs, a smaller class size would make for a more positive experience. It is also a good idea to choose a smaller class size if your dog does not do well with distractions. If however, your dog thrives off of being social and does well with distraction, a larger class may be okay. Keep in mind, a larger class size means less one-on-one attention from the instructor.
Each class is different and will cover a variety of goals. It is important to know what your goals are going into it and make sure they align well with the class description. The class trainer should be able to give you a good idea of what will be covered in the course before signing up.
Trainer Educational Background
It is also a good idea to ask the trainer what his or her educational background is. Do they belong to any professional associations or have any specific credentials? Do they continue their education on a regular basis? These questions are especially helpful if your dog is in need of more serious behavioral modification. While it is not required for trainers to be certified, it would be preferred to work with one that is. Credited associations and certifications you want to look for include: APDT, CPDT-KA, CDBC, IAABC, CABC.
When are private lessons a better choice?
Most group classes focus on basic obedience such as sit, down, stay, leash skills..etc. If your dog is in need of more serious behavioral modification such as aggression or fear- based behaviors it would be a better choice to choose private in-home lessons. During private lessons the behavior consultant will be able to focus on your dog and his or her needs rather than sticking to a group curriculum. It is important that if your dog is in need of behavioral modification to search for a trainer that is certified and has experience in that behavior. After getting a detailed history on your dog and assessing the behavior, your trainer will then create a training plan specifically catered for your dog. The benefit to private lessons is that each lesson is individualized for your dog and will be done at their pace.
Training is a fabulous way to curb unwanted behavior, avoid future behavioral issues, and create a lasting bond between you and your dog. You want it to be a positive experience for both of you, so have fun, stay positive, and learn together!
Kelly Sullivan is a certified professional canine behavior consultant from NH. She specializes in serious behavioral modification while using positive science-based techniques. She offers both private in home lessons as well as group classes and was voted # 1 dog trainer in NH for 2017. Learn more about Kelly at www.DoggonitNH.com